Platform: PlayStation | Genre: Role-Playing Game
Publisher: SCEA | Developer: Squaresoft | Released: 1997
The Final Fantasy series is one of the most significant franchises in video game history, responsible for numerous games that were both profound and critically adored. The series is also a veritable road map for how console role-playing games have progressed through multiple console generations, from its birth on the NES to later successes on Sony's consoles. Though fans of the franchise will argue until they run out of breath about which of the many great Final Fantasy games is the best, the name that frequently rises to the top of those discussions is the franchise's most influential game, Final Fantasy VII.
Final Fantasy VII is as good as it is important, but it's perhaps the latter quality that makes it stand out to so many people. It was the game's length and ultimately its file size that made it impossible for SquareSoft to continue its exclusive relationship with Nintendo and its cartridge-based N64 system. Instead, Final Fantasy VII made its debut on three CD-ROMs on the Sony PlayStation, and it featured fully 3D characters on prerendered backgrounds. But it is arguably the FMV cinematics that are most often remembered, the length and power of which gave Final Fantasy VII its potency, and it's what remains at the core of its legacy even now.
In Final Fantasy VII you assume the role of Cloud Strife, a spiky blonde-haired renegade who carries two things with him, the enormous and distinguishing Buster Sword and the memories of his dark, sordid past. As a former member of the military group SOLDIER, Cloud turns to fight alongside the "good guys," a resistance movement called AVALANCHE that seeks to stop SOLDIER and the group behind it, Shin-Ra, from siphoning all the energy from the planet. The energy, which comes from the planet's Lifestream, is responsible for all life, so as Shin-Ra seeks to use the energy to power their enormous reactors, their actions are in turn destroying the planet.
While the core concepts might not be unique, it's Cloud's interactions with other characters, especially between him and the game's antagonist, Sephiroth, which make the story so special. From its sinister and serious moments to Cloud's humorous cross-dressing sequence, players can't help but feel attached to Cloud and his supporting cast, who are easily as iconic as he is. At the top of the list are his two love interests, tough girl Tifa and the mystical flower girl Aeris (Aerith), whose relationship with Cloud you can govern by selecting different conversational choices along the way. There's also Sephiroth, whose appearance among flames as he burns down Cloud's hometown might be one of the most recognizable cutscenes ever to grace video games. And let's not forget that he's responsible for the most shocking moment in video games, the most spoilerific spoiler of all time, the death of Aeris.
Though story and character certainly are the heart of Final Fantasy VII, the gameplay mechanics are the soul, perfectly fusing typical RPG complexity and accessibility. It's little wonder that Final Fantasy VII is one of the most popular games of all time, as it's often credited with propagating console RPGs outside of Japan. Most notably the materia system and the game's elaborate summons (especially Knights of the Round) keep the 50-plus hours of gameplay interesting as you travel across the beautiful land, via Chocobo or airship, uncovering the mysteries of Cloud's past. And the music that accompanies you is one of legendary composer Nobuo Uematsu's finest--from the game's take on the Prelude to the graceful beauty of Cosmo Canyon to the orchestral epic One Winged Angel--the music is both gorgeous and extraordinarily memorable.
But perhaps the most amazing thing about Final Fantasy VII is its life after the game. Recognized by fans the world over, Final Fantasy VII frequently graces the top of "fan favorites" lists, including the reader-driven GameFAQs' Best Character, Best Villain, and Best Game Ever summer poll contests, which have had Cloud Strife, Sephiroth, and Final Fantasy VII coming in at the top of their respective categories year after year. Square Enix, too, recognizes the series' potential and has built an entire universe of games around Final Fantasy VII. The Compilation of Final Fantasy VII consists of spin-off games in the same universe on a host of different platforms, as well as the Final Fantasy VII movie, Advent Children. There's no game that has a better chance of success than Final Fantasy VII, as it's the first franchise to kick off Square Enix's new experimental concept of "polymorphic content."Final Fantasy VII will live on for years to come, not only because Square Enix recognizes how beloved it is (and continues to update the franchise), but also because the game stands the test of time. The amazing collaboration of Square's finest developers, makes this legendary game, without a doubt, one of the greatest games of all time.